Hello! My name is Josh Engebretson, Co-Founder of THUNDERBEAST GAMES LLC, makers of the Atomic Game Engine. This blog provides an abridged accounting of the 20 year adventure leading to the Atomic Game Engine, a quick look back at year one, the 2016 roadmap, and how we plan to move the company and technology forward.
If you’re solely interested in Atomic, you may want to scroll to the bottom :)
My first real gig was way back in 1996. I had worked up some cool demos using the SurRender 3D engine (parts of which were later rolled into the Umbra occlusion culling library). This had a software rasterizer as 3d acceleration really wasn’t a thing yet. I remember one of the demos was a DOOM level renderer with some pretty advanced 3D lighting tricks for the time. I presented these to a local advertising prop and CG company called MNFX and was immediately taken under the (awesome) co-owners’ wings.
After spending a couple years developing and pitching a game called “Juggernaut”, we got an offer from a local company called Head Games to develop an add-on to Quake2 which was set to launch the next month. The ink was signed and we had 9 weeks to deliver the “Juggernaut for Quake2 - Deluxe Edition” which ironically, rather than being deluxe, was only like the first 10 levels for a Circuit City flyer. We shipped the full game a few weeks later and people who had already bought it found out about the missing levels later. The publisher wasn’t exactly into games for the craft.
The good thing is that we had really pulled something off in their eyes and they had some great connections at Harley Davidson, Kawasaki, Hot Rod, and a slug of other brands. I wrote a game engine, 3DS Max tool pipeline, and we had a really good run of making 11 retail boxed games. There were a couple of creative endeavors in there too with “Desert Rats” which got a 7.3 on GameSpot and was a “good example of a budget game done right”. Also, my personal favorite for THQ, “I was an Atomic Mutant” which was a love song to 50’s B Sci-fi flicks :)
I met Lara Engebretson, Co-Founder of THUNDERBEAST, during this period. GarageGames had just fired up, there was all this talk about “Right Sizing Your Life” from their co-founder Jeff Tunnell … this seemed like a great idea, and being who I am, took it to the logical extreme by moving to North Dakota :)
We moved from Minneapolis, Minnesota to a tiny farming town in North Dakota called Wishek. The town has less than 1,000 people and was 90 miles from the nearest interstate (or stoplight). This wasn’t a random move, as my great, great grandfather Frederick Ritter had moved from Russia where he was a German in the Czar’s army, across the pond, to the great plains. It was a huge culture shock for us, though it was mind-blowing the welcome we received in the little town where even after being there for years, semi-distant relatives were still coming up and introducing themselves.
This move was motivated by our desire to create “Prairie Games” our first indie game studio. I have always been a tremendous DOOM and Quake technology fan and so we spent a load of time developing an RPG prototype using the GPL Quake2 tech. We used our prototype to secure financing from a private individual and it was decided that, with Quake3 going GPL that Christmas, we would upgrade to it for better lighting and all around more flexible rendering. Unfortunately, there was a big licensing deal that came through which pushed the GPL licensing back into 2006… thus we were temporarily screwed, which turned out to be quite a good thing :)
GarageGames and their Torque technology had long been on our radar. Torque’s “killer feature”, in my mind, was its networking layer. At the time, a lot of indies wanted to make MMO’s and it seemed impossible. I have a streak when it comes to proving common wisdom, at least partially, wrong. We had a long hard look at Torque and the editor, and decided: “We can make an MMO”, contracted with Frogames and WiT Entertainment on original artwork, and promptly shipped 11 months later, on both Windows and OSX :)
This was “Minions of Mirth” the indie MMO which still has a cult following today. While Lara was working on the follow up “Undead Wars” expansion, I decided to clean up the Minions core tech and release it. This was the “MMOWorkshop” and was later adopted by our friends at Mad Otter, greatly expanded upon, and used to ship “Villagers and Heroes” which is another of the very few indie MMO’s in existence.
So, we shipped our indie MMO, and developed cross platform MMO technology that was used, without our help, to develop another great indie MMO. Now, Villagers and Heroes is totally Mad Otters creation and they have taken their game and tech way farther than we ever did with Minions. Though, I am still proud of this fact and always enjoy seeing new builds of V & H and you can get it on Steam!
In 2007, Apple decided to feature and host a Minions of Mirth download on their site! We never did figure out how they found out about us, probably should have asked :)
I married Prairie Games Co-Founder Lara Engebretson during this period, taking her name, going from being a Ritter to an Engebretson. I do remember thinking at the time, I was losing the name I was making for myself :)
In 2008, We decided it was time for change. So, we applied to GarageGames, were hired, and worked remotely on Torque3D. There were big changes with the GarageGames organization which accelerated the return of my inner entrepreneur, so it was off to California.
We founded Mythos Labs, with my long time friend from the Canopy days, Todd Wahoske. This was in Nevada City, California which is DEFINITELY worth a visit. The move was another major culture shock coming from a tiny, tiny town in North Dakota. Mythos Labs quickly landed some high profile contract gigs for Microsoft and Adobe via our friends at GarageGames and later PushButton Labs.
This included an Adobe MAX keynote demo for their new 3D GPU rendering tech codenamed “Molehill”. There was some art pipeline issues and as the demo was going to have our name on it (and we wanted to make sure that we delivered on our recommendation to Adobe from PushButton), I rather quickly wrote a Flash exporter for Unity3D… which helped level up the demo and Adobe was very pleased with us, so all was good :)
We contracted with Disney during this time and the project we were on, which was later canceled, had a couple month hiatus… so, I developed the uWebKit Unity plugin which is a deep integration of WebKit and Unity. uWebKit went on to be licensed by companies such as Amazon, HTC, Boeing, Airbus, Sony, Audi, and many others.
Around this time, I came across Urho3D, hooked it up to Loom, and had some really cool demos in LoomScript running on mobile and desktop with it. Urho will make another entrance into the story below. Eventually, I was hired and moved to Eugene to work on Loom.
I built out a ton of tech on Loom, though my primary focus was the AS3 compiler, runtime systems, and debugger which all ran on top of Lua/LuaJIT. I am grateful for the Loom experience and learned much from Ben in this process, especially in terms of better software development practices.
Atomic Year One
In late 2014, I had already done considerable prototyping with the Urho3D engine, and I loved its object, component, and rendering model. Urho is super clean and MIT licensed, a fantastic base to build on, and so after contacting its primary developer Lasse Öörni, decided to fork it and create the Atomic Game Engine.
We set a date of March 4th, 2015 for the first publicly downloadable version of the editor, engine, and deployment. This gave us 3 months total including hooking up the website and Atomic Store with licensing system. We also launched Early Access with Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and WebGL deployment. Seriously, in 3 months :)
We made the March 4th date, collapsed for a week, and have been pushing out new builds for the 10 months since. The Atomic technology and BUSINESS have come a LONG way in this time!!!
We haven’t had the resources to really promote Atomic. Even so, there are now more than 3,000 Atomic licensees! We’re working closely with our friends at Luma, which is the first studio to license the tech, and there’s a vibrant community forming, all of which helps illuminate this journey.
Check out the Developer Digest blog entries for more of what has been going on in these 10 months… and we are already overdue on the latest Dev Digest which is going to be packed with good stuff :)
Ok, so where do we go from here? Let’s talk Roadmap.
DISCLAIMER: As with most roadmaps, this one is subject to change. This is a snapshot of current planning and priorities, things get moved around, opportunities happen, etc. It is also not “complete”
- New WebSite - We need a new website, badly. The main page and landing video have not been updated since the initial March 4th Early Access!
- New User Experience, documentation and tutorial videos
- Improved iOS/Android deployment with support for shipping on App Store/Google Play. We also plan on publishing a mobile iOS/Android example
- Continued work on editor asset pipeline, scene editor, etc
- Script debugging with breakpoints, callstacks, locals, etc, including on device
- First class TypeScript support with round trip code editing, compiling, debugging
- Basic Oculus Rift support (Q2)
- Multiple top level windows for the Atomic Editor
- Improvements to the new Chromium WebView API
- Examples, examples, examples, including a bigger “full game” example
- Animation Editor
- Evaluate lightmap generation with Blender cycles
- The things that need to happen, or are under NDA, and are not listed on this roadmap :)
Building the Atomic Business
I know what you might be thinking: “But, you are 2 people and only one of you can write code.” Yes, this is correct, and has now become a problem. I only have 10 digits and can’t type with my toes, YET!
We are very aware of this limitation and we’ve taken Atomic about as far as we can under our current structure. Which is our company, THUNDERBEAST GAMES LLC
Lara and I formed THUNDERBEAST as an indie game studio which also licenses an engine. The primary motivation being to ship games, though diversify with the engine tech, in an increasingly difficult games marketplace. We saw PushButton Labs apply this model to great effect and it remains a great idea… though, other than some awesome concepting, we haven’t made much progress on our games. Hopefully this is for obvious reasons :)
We also setup THUNDERBEAST with the idea that ownership would remain solely with Lara and myself, as we have spun up and spun down enough over the last 10 years, that we just wanted an entity to hold our IP and would survive change. Well, this change is already upon us, which is a good thing… though, happened much sooner than we anticipated, also a good thing.
Ok, we have game IP and technology IP. We want to keep the game IP and open up the Atomic technology for additional partner and investment opportunities. So, are planning to split Atomic off to a new entity which is structured for growth :)
We’re in Eugene, Oregon. The birthplace of GarageGames, who helped launch the modern indie game scene by providing the amazing Torque Game Engine. Torque continues to be a tremendous source of inspiration to both Lara and myself. Eugene is a great place to be working on Atomic. We haven’t left our house much this last year while bootstrapping. Now, we’re reaching out for advice, help, and potential partners on what is sure to be quite an adventure :)
We’re greatly looking forward to getting more hands on deck. In short, my god this is going to be so awesome!